I will always remember the horror of receiving my chemistry result when I was thirteen years old. I knew it wasn't going to be high, but to come bottom of the class was very upsetting.

Testing and assessment - methodology article

It was all made worse by the fact that the chemistry teacher read the results to the whole class, from first to last place. My humiliation was complete. Students can have very negative reactions towards tests and it's no surprise when they too may have had experiences like this.

  • Why testing doesn't work
  • Reasons for testing
  • Making testing more productive
  • Learning from tests
  • Alternatives to testing
  • Conclusions

 

Why testing doesn't work
There are many arguments against using tests as a form of assessment:

  • Some students become so nervous that they can't perform and don't give a true account of their knowledge or ability
  • Other students can do well with last-minute cramming despite not having worked throughout the course
  • Once the test has finished, students can just forget all that they had learned
  • Students become focused on passing tests rather than learning to improve their language skills.

 

Reasons for testing
Testing is certainly not the only way to assess students, but there are many good reasons for including a test in your language course.

  • A test can give the teacher valuable information about where the students are in their learning and can affect what the teacher will cover next. They will help a teacher to decide if her teaching has been effective and help to highlight what needs to be reviewed. Testing can be as much an assessment of the teaching as the learning
  • Tests can give students a sense of accomplishment as well as information about what they know and what they need to review.
    • In the 1970s students in an intensive EFL program were taught in an unstructured conversation course. They complained that even though they had a lot of time to practise communicating, they felt as if they hadn't learned anything. Not long afterwards a testing system was introduced and helped to give them a sense of satisfaction that they were accomplishing things. Tests can be extremely motivating and give students a sense of progress. They can highlight areas for students to work on and tell them what has and hasn't been effective in their learning.
  • Tests can also have a positive effect in that they encourage students to review material covered on the course.
    • At university I experienced this first hand, I always learned the most before an exam. Tests can encourage students to consolidate and extend their knowledge.
  • Tests are also a learning opportunity after they have been taken. The feedback after a test can be invaluable in helping a student to understand something she couldn't do during the test. Thus the test is a review in itself.

 

Making testing more productive
Despite all of these strong arguments for testing, it is very important to bear in mind the negative aspects we looked at first and to try and minimise the effects.

  • Try to make the test a less intimidating experience by explaining to the students the purpose for the test and stress the positive effects it will have. Many may have very negative feelings left over from previous bad experiences.
  • Give the students plenty of notice and teach some revision classes beforehand.
  • Tell the students that you will take into account their work on the course as well as the test result.
  • Be sensitive when you hand out the results. I usually go through the answers fairly quickly, highlight any specific areas of difficulty and give the students their results on slips of paper.
  • Emphasise that an individual should compare their results with their own previous scores not with others in the class.

 

Learning from tests
Finally, it is very important to remember that tests also give teachers valuable information on how to improve the process of evaluation. Questions such as:

  • "Were the instructions clear?"
  • "Are the test results consistent with the work that the students have done on the course. Why/why not?"
  • "Did I manage to create a non-threatening atmosphere?"

All of this will help the teacher to improve the evaluative process for next time.

 

Alternatives to testing
Using only tests as a basis for assessment has obvious drawbacks. They are 'one-off' events that do not necessarily give an entirely fair account of a student's proficiency. As we have already mentioned, some people are more suited to them than others. There are other alternatives that can be used instead of or alongside tests.

  • Continuous assessment
    Teachers give grades for a number of assignments over a period of time. A final grade is decided on a combination of assignments.
  • Portfolio
    A student collects a number of assignments and projects and presents them in a file. The file is then used as a basis for evaluation.
  • Self-assessment
    The students evaluate themselves. The criteria must be carefully decided upon beforehand.
  • Teacher's assessment
    The teacher gives an assessment of the learner for work done throughout the course including classroom contributions.

 

Conclusions
Overall, I think that all the above methods have strengths and limitations and that tests have an important function for both students and teachers. By trying to limit the negative effects of tests we can try to ensure that they are as effective as possible. I don't think that tests should be the only criteria for assessment, but that they are one of many tools that we can use. I feel that choosing a combination of methods of assessment is the fairest and most logical approach.

Richard Frost, British Council, Turkey

 

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Comments

Testing takes me back to my school days too. Too many children who were excellent in class would fall to pieces on test day. Later, I encountered the self-same problem in my students.Tests also don't take into account learning disabilities. I had one student who was my most fluent student and an active participant in class. Sadly, he did very badly in tests and came under censure from the principal and his parents. He was severely dyslexic. The tests made no allowance for that.I can understand teachers of large classes needing some kind of test system, but for smaller classes, ongoing assessment is, I think, better.  I like the idea of a portfolio.I had one teacher who would set projects throughout the school term. Those would be evaluated. The actual final exam only counted for a small portion of the total mark. To me, that was the best way to get an overall idea of the student's progress.

I personnally hate tests, I think the hole concept of being evaluated is very rude. Sometimes It wont matter your hard work over the course, if you get nervous during the test you might fail.
In may case for example, I am studying this TKT course to work teaching English which means I will dedicate my life to this, so I will have enough time to prepare my classes and refresh many terms. I am nervous about the tests I have to complete to get my certificate because I don´t memorize...I understand, so If someone asks me "enlist the skills and subskills of learning" I will NOT know what to answer, but if there is context and I have to explain the concepts, I could do it well. Testing is as we say in Spanish "double-edged sword"

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